Reflections on UCSD years teach lessons

    Now I know I’m getting older. People ask me the same question I used to ask upperclassmen when I was a freshman: “”What are you going to do after you graduate?”” I can only think of the usual reply: “”Take a year off, work, grad school … damned if I know!””

    My sentiment is pure cliche, of course. Almost everyone else in my shoes (a 21-year-old nervously eyeing the arrival of his final year as an undergrad) probably admits to such uncertainty.

    Doubts about my future aside, I’d rather take time to reflect upon my past three years at UCSD. Call me sentimental — or perhaps another stressed-out student hoping to find catharsis through this silly article before finals week hell — but I think a little perspective is just what the doctor ordered.

    I was apple juice and now I am cider. Hackneyed sentiments about growing pains and coming-of-age never seem to disappear, even in the Guardian. Still, I’ll admit that I find comfort in hearing about other people’s struggles, however “”trite”” they may sound. In the end, realizing that I’m not alone reminds me about the universality of our experiences. It also reminds me to never underestimate the power of human compassion and understanding.

    I’ve met a lot of people in San Diego over the years. Then again, I haven’t met nearly enough. Sometimes it seems as though we’re all in our own bubbles, clamped in our own self-created traps of insecurity, hidden fears and repressed emotions. With such self-imposed limitations, many of us create coping tools — be they drowning our sorrows in a bottle, toughening up and wearing a mask of confidence or withdrawing from people altogether. Others are more successful at finding their niche of like-minded people, sharing experiences and enjoying the moments. Most of us are somewhere in between.

    I feel lucky to have met people from both extremes of the emotional spectrum during my brief stint as a college student. These folks have taught me that, for starters, there’s a lot of passion and pain out there. Contrary to popular opinion, UCSD students are prime examples of such fire and spirit.

    Take a few women I knew last year, for instance. Initially, I had made the same surface assumptions about them anyone else would have made. All were attractive, bright and overachieving — seemingly invincible to any significant problems. Their poise and spunk stood out in public, only to violently crumble in private.

    Though the issues behind their emotional deterioration were complex, almost all described the same culprit that plagues our society’s obsessive definition of female attractiveness: being “”thin.”” Not surprisingly, every girl who has ever uttered a sad story about hating her body, and subsequently herself, has been beautiful in my mind.

    As the brother of someone who has suffered depression over issues of weight and low self-esteem, I don’t take such matters lightly.

    Some of these tortured souls sought help and are better, while others still cry alone at night. I have lost contact with all of them, except for my sister (who, I might add, is doing very well). I haven’t forgotten about the rest, however, and I wish them all peace.

    On a deeper level, though, these people reminded me that things are not as they seem. Whereas I assumed the most “”successful”” types would be the happiest, such was not the case in this situation. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the norm. Most of us, especially the “”happy”” ones, can’t help but feel the mean reds from time to time. Pain, after all, does not discriminate.

    On the other hand, I’ve also met people who can’t help but look beyond the gloom and be optimistic. I can’t say these people were any better than the former, or even more fun to be around, but they definitely had something special.

    People such as my friend Joe, whom I met last year, always had a spark about them, an eternal grin that dared you to frown. Not only do these people make lemonade by the gallon, but they offer it to their friends for free. They see hardships as merely cycles spinning around. Catch the good times, but only if you can. Joe walked the talk, something I always admired. Such people are hard to come by, especially in a world where hype is often valued more than the real thing. Some people can look no further than beyond themselves in conversation and compassion. Others, such as Joe, become a friendly ear.

    Where have all the years gone, I wonder? There are so many other faces I have known, but only a few do I keep in touch with. Perhaps fall-outs with acquaintances and close friends alike are to be expected during college — just another echo of that life-lessons speech you heard during high school graduation. In the end, despite many people being absent in my present life, I will take the lessons I have learned from everyone I’ve met with me into the unknown future. I can only hope that they think of me in the same regard.

    The words of Chris Stevens, philosopher extraordinaire, seem only appropriate. This being my final article of the year, I propose a question instead of an answer to everyone who may have complained about UCSD for one reason or another. His wise words are as follows: “”I think when you are somewhere, you oughta be there, ’cause it’s not about how long you stay in a place. It’s about what you do while you’re there. And when you go, will the place where you’ve been be any better off for your having been there?””

    For all of us Tritons, I certainly hope so.

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